Chapter 2 - Inside The Minds Of Those You Are Changing

I'm adding this note of caution to each page of my notes because the title is misleading: the author advocates a softer approach to persuasion, but his tactics are often still manipulative. In many instances he proposes a subtler form of manipulation, but one which is still manipulative. I don't expect he has bad intentions, but lacks sufficient knowledge in the areas of rhetoric and psychology to correctly identify and avoid manipulative tactics entirely.

A common approach to sales training is to provide the salesman with a list of "tricks" he can use in specific situations, stock phrases that can be injected awkwardly into conversation that fail to considering the prospects needs or interests. Greater success comes from understanding the prospect's buying process - to know what they are attempting to achieve and their decision-making process in order to be able to offer something relevant.

Traditional sales seeks to define a "selling process" that puts the customer through certain steps toward making a purchase. While a great deal of though has been put into this, it has largely ignored the customers' actual buying process, which is quite different. That is, instead of helping the prospect through their buying process, the salesman seeks to manipulate the prospect into following his own selling process.

Ideally, the two would match up. People go thorough repeatable and predictable steps when they make purchases, regardless of the decision in question - and understanding and accommodating their process is more effective than attempting to interrupt or redirect them.

Selling to a Buyer

There's a brief mention of some of the sales tactics that the author was taught over the years, with catchy names and clever acronyms, none of which actually considered the buyer's decision process. He had even been involved in designing sales training, and it fell into the same pit: the process was designed according to the needs and preferences of the seller, not those of the buyer.

The one exception was Xerox, which had a buyer-driven sales technique, but which was only taught to their own personnel and not the dealerships who sold products and interacted with customers - they did their own thing. Another sad note is that Xerox packaged and sold off their sales training program as a professional consulting service.

However, the Xerox process "forever changed the way I viewed the art of influence." And while he has adapted and changed the original process, it has been with the customer in mind. Moreover, his value as a consultant was in adapting the basic process to suit the specific needs of their clients' customers, particularly for clients such as teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and others who did not recognize that they were involved in selling at all.

(EN: The rest of this section is just an infomercial with vague promises of success by using his methods.)

The Satisfied Stage

The buying process has a starting point, or more aptly a condition that exists before a need is recognized - this is the "satisfied stage" in which the client is generally happy and has no needs or no problems.

The buying process does not come from this state, but arises from a change in this state: the individual has a sense that something is wrong, or something would make them more contented than they presently are, and that some action will need to be taken to preserve or improve their satisfaction.

The author takes the position that people who say they are contented are "simply unaware" of their discontent and are ignoring their problems.

(EN: He presents this as a "fact" but provides no support for his estimation, so I'm highly suspicious. Moreover, subscribing to the notion that people are not aware of their problems and need to be convinced that they have problems that need solving strays back into the area of manipulation.)

He also asserts that happiness fades fast: consider the example of a couple who buys a new house, and how delighted they feel upon purchasing it. Then, they begin to notice the imperfections and become dissatisfied, which leads them to look for solutions to the problems they were previously unaware of.

(EN: The author has blurred together the concepts of contentment and happiness - the latter is evanescent but the former has considerable longevity.)

The Acknowledge Stage

The acknowledgement state represents a very significant step, as it is a change from a contented state in which everything's fine to the recognition of a problem that makes us discontented, or less contented than we would like to be.

However, this is much misunderstood - as the salesman's (self-serving) belief is that people wish to solve their problems as soon as they are recognized. More often, people choose to live with their problems or mitigate them to some degree.

The author goes back to the example of the new couple's house - when they recognize the never saw the place during rush hour and discover there's a great deal of traffic noise. Their solution was not to move, but to keep their windows closed and purchase an audio system that played "nature sounds" to mask the noise of the traffic. This didn't solve the problem, merely made it more bearable.

As a rule, "people don't fix small problems." They will whine about them, procrastinate, or take steps to mitigate them - but unless the problem is serious, they are not motivated to take significant action to address it. We spend months or years living with problems.

There's a personal anecdote about a car the author owned, whose horn went on the fritz and would go off at random times. His solution was not to replace the car, or even take it in for service - he disconnected the wire and drive the car without a horn. It took quite some time and several other minor problems to drive him to the point where he recognized the need to buy a new car.

A second reason that people choose to abide problems rather than solve them is fear of change - any course of action that might lead to improvement might instead make the problem worse, and it's more comfortable to deal with "the devil you know" rather than risk making matters worse.

The author obliquely mentions the crisis moment that arrives, when small problems become big, and people are willing to face the risk of making a change. People work unfulfilling jobs until they are fired, abode a bad relationship until the other person mentions divorce, take aspirin for the aches and pains until we can no longer stand them.

He believes that a salesman can help a person avoid a catastrophe by helping them to address small problems before they fester - rather than waiting for the situation to come to crisis.

The Criteria Stage

The author suggests that our problems determine our needs. A person insists on a home within ten miles of the office because he is frustrated by the length and difficulty of his present commute; he's looking for a car with a hands-free cell phone connection because he got into an accident; he's looking for an employee with a track-record of cooperation because the one he just got rid of was difficult to work with.

(EN: I sense the author is missing the positive criteria: the must-have features can also arise from things that delighted the person in the past. But he's likely right that, unless they're looking for an exact replacement, the underlying reason that they want something different than they had is a source of frustration.)

(EN: I also believe this is a short-cut to the way people develop criteria - by suggesting just one thing, it implies that there is nothing else. I expect that in many situations there's a list of criteria, each representing something they valued and want to keep, or something they think will be an improvement.)

The Investigate Stage

After criteria are recognized and defined, the next step in the process involves finding a solution. This involves two separate decisions.

The first decision is "what to buy" and involves looking at various solutions and considering the likelihood that they will satisfy the criteria.

The second decision is "where to buy" when the product has been identified and there are multiple vendors who offer it.

(EN: And that's all the author has to offer. This merits a lot more consideration on these two decisions, and it also omits a couple of things - such as the decision of how to buy and when to buy.)

The Select Stage

The author suggests that a salesman can observe the way in which people relax once a decision has been made - the process of getting to the point of decision was tense, as sifting through alternatives is an intense mental and emotional effort - which comes to an abrupt end when a decision is made.

(EN: and that is all he has to offer on this account. Again, it's superficial and half-baked. In particular, he fails to account for the difficulty of selection and the potential to reconsider criteria or identify new criteria he hadn't considered before on the verge of a decision.)

The Reconsider Stage

The author suggests that this stage occurs after the purchase, and is the same as "buyer's remorse" when they consider the purchase they just made and realize it wasn't perfect - and find a way to "live with it" again and return to being satisfied but not completely happy.

(EN: This is likewise superficial, and I do believe that he missed a few steps between the last one and this one as well as the events that can completely derail a customer between the decision and the actual purchase - which is a typical, given that salesmen take it for granted that the buyer's mentality is simple and follows a direct path to purchase, as they desire it to.)

The Process Continues

The author considers the buying process to be ongoing: when something is purchased, the euphoria of making the change is short-lived and the buyer, now the owner, begins to recognize dissatisfactions that slowly build over time until he becomes motivated to replace it with something better.

He speaks to his own experience with a house, which he is generally happy with - and while he has no present dissatisfactions, he does realize that when their children grow up and move out, their needs will change and the house will no longer be satisfactory.

For a salesman, it's important to consider what stage of this process a prospect is in - if they are contented, have growing discontent, are actively seeking a solution, are looking to purchase something, or have recently made a purchase and are having some remorse. This will identify their likelihood to be open to a solution and the way in which a salesman must approach them to speak to their needs in their current "step" in the process.